Study: Youth Groups Rarely Practice What They Preach

Youth movements say they teach members tolerance, pluralism and social solidarity. But a new study has found that in many cases, this education fails to translate into action.

"Declarations about openness, cultural pluralism and social solidarity are only partially realized," stated the Education Ministry study, whose findings were discussed by educators during Youth Movement Week last week. And when these values do find expression in action, it is "primarily between the different chapters of each movement, and to a smaller extent via meetings and cooperation with other movements."

Movement members themselves, when interviewed, said their movements taught three main values: "tolerance for others" (cited by 93 percent of respondents), "self-fulfillment" (81 percent) and "education for democracy" (78 percent). The value cited by the fewest respondents was "social involvement" (68 percent).

The study found that levels of volunteerism vary widely between different chapters of the same movement. Some chapters do engage in wide-ranging and ongoing volunteer work, it said, but in others, volunteerism never goes much beyond declarations of intent.

The level of volunteer work in ultra-Orthodox youth groups is "outstanding in its devotion, in energetic charitable work for the needy of every sort" among people "with whom they have a high level of social and ideological solidarity" - that is, within their own communities, the study said. On the other hand, it found that "almost without exception, there was a disconnect, a lack of effort to create solidarity, with other communities, even those located in the same town as the chapter in question."

The study, which covers youth movement activity in 2006, found that movement leaders seemed better able to enunciate their movements' values compared with the previous year.

In 2005 some of the chapter leaders demonstrated "confusion and even lack of knowledge about the values at the foundation of their movement," according to the study. "They had trouble enunciating the uniqueness of its values and claimed it was no different from other movements."

But a year later, the movement leaders seemed to have improved, "even if some still had trouble pointing to significant - rather than simplistic or superficial - connections between these values and their activities, i.e. their implementation in practice."

Yesterday, Haaretz published additional findings from the study that showed that about half of all youth movement members come from well-off families and about a third from the middle class, with only some 20 percent coming from needy families. In large part, this is because of the expense; annual dues in the most expensive movement, the Israel Scouts, can reach NIS 1,500 per year.